Thousands of pharmacists across the UK have today staged a series of protests – from turning out the lights, blacking out windows and wearing dark clothing – as part of a campaign to ‘save’ community pharmacy.

Those among the profession have spoken to The Pharmacist about the funding pressures that are putting pharmacies ‘under threat’ and that have driven them to participate in the National Pharmacy Association’s (NPA’s) ‘day of action’.

Up to 6,000 pharmacies are understood to have engaged in today’s protests, which have been described by the NPA as an ‘unprecedented’ event and aim to help ‘save our pharmacies’.

Jonathan Cooper, from Cooper’s Chemist in Rishi Sunak’s constituency of Richmond (Yorkshire), told The Pharmacist that his branches were switching off the pharmacy lights and blacking out windows with posters to symbolise ‘what it would be like in the future if we have to close our doors due to the lack of funding’.

‘All our pharmacies are under threat at the moment,’ he said, adding that ‘underfunding for basic dispensing’ was ‘dragging all the businesses down’.

‘We're still working on a contract, which is years and years out of date, and all of our expenses have rocketed – our payroll expenses, heat, light, phone [and] drugs prices are really volatile at the moment,’ he added.

Mr Cooper said pharmacists had been ‘complaining’ to the government ‘for years on this’.

And he warned that the extra funding for services like Pharmacy First 'help pay for the extra cost there', but 'won't outweigh the shortage of funding that we've had on our dispensing costs'.

Mr Cooper said he would like to see the community pharmacy contractual framework for this financial year signed 'by the end of the month, or as soon as possible'.

As previously reported, it was recently confirmed that there would be no pharmacy contract until after the general election which is being held on 4 July.

Mr Cooper told The Pharmacist that with sufficient and secure funding, he would like to invest in more modern IT systems that would help improve patient safety by cutting down on human errors.

'I know it worries my pharmacists – “has an error been made today?” – because they've been so busy or understaffed,' he said.

'You can see why a lot of pharmacists are struggling with stress and have been for years, because it all comes down to the funding at the end of the day and being able to afford to implement safe systems.’

But implementing the new system would require the pharmacy group to apply for a loan, which Mr Cooper said they 'can't afford to pay'.

‘We haven’t got £60,000 sitting in the bank because all our reserves have been whittled away over the last few years just trying to keep our heads above water,’ he added.

Meanwhile, Reena Barai, owner of SG Barai Chemist in Sutton, South West London, had her pharmacy lights turned off for two hours this morning, and asked her staff to dress in black.

Patients joined the protest outside the pharmacy this morning, as well as by signing a petition and using social media.

‘So many of them say, “but Reena, I've been coming to you for years, and you're busier than ever, how can they be closing you down”?

‘[And] I have to say: “look, they're not closing me down, but what they are doing is squeezing our funding”.

‘The government… gives us little piecemeal pots of money for core services. But they're not fixing the core contract and underfunding of that core contract, which represents probably about 95% of our activity in a pharmacy,’ she told The Pharmacist.

The pharmacy has been in her family for 45 years, but Ms Barai said that the current situation was particularly challenging, with pharmacy teams under financial pressure, suffering from burnout after staying open during the pandemic, and now being asked to deliver new services.

She told The Pharmacist that as an established business, she was more able to cover costs ‘in hope that there will be better times’.

However, she recognised that ‘other’s cant – people with new businesses, new loans, or multiple pharmacies – they can't take those hits’.

‘The cash flow gets tighter and tighter, month in month out, and it's unsustainable to run a business in that kind of environment,’ added Ms Barai.

Keith McElrea, of Whithorn Pharmacy in the Sothern Machars, Scotland, said his pharmacy had considered turning out the shop floor lights, but after some team members had health and safety concerns, they opted for the whole team to dress in black, ‘as a symbolic protest’.

He told how his team were hoping to highlight ‘the chronic and ongoing underfunding of community pharmacy’ which he said had ‘left us and other pharmacies having to subsidise’ the delivery of NHS services.

‘It’s not right that small independent contractors should be left funding what is the NHS job to fund,’ he told The Pharmacist.

He described how increasing costs and inflation had ‘wiped £50,000 of reserves off one of our companies’, while ‘we had to take £30,000 of increased overdraft out just to cover the increased cost of medicines over a four-month period’.

Mr McElrea also pointed to the latest minimum wage increase as of the start of April – something he said pharmacies have had ‘no extra funds as yet to cover’.

‘We've had to meet that out of our own pockets, because the funding model hasn't been revised to allow for that,’ he added, pointing to the ongoing delays to the pharmacy contract.

Concerningly, he said his team had cut staffing ‘by 15%’ and reduced opening hours ‘by 9% across two of our branches’.

‘It's just a totally untenable situation,' he said. 'Pharmacies are at breaking point and we need additional funding now.’

Mr McElrea added: ‘I would like to see those that make the decisions having a bit of a reality check about what the costs of running a community pharmacy are these days, and a realisation that what they're paying us doesn't come close to covering it.

‘It is not right in any measure that pharmacies should be paying for NHS services. And that's where we are at the moment. We are paying to provide those to our patients, and our businesses are making a loss because of that.’

Earlier today it was revealed that almost two-thirds of pharmacies have cut their opening hours since 2015 due to funding pressures, according to analysis by the NPA.

And last week exclusive analysis from The Pharmacist showed a net loss of more than 1,200 community pharmacies in England between 2019 and 2024.